The Case That Never Dies: The Lindbergh Kidnapping

The Case That Never Dies: The Lindbergh Kidnapping

The Case That Never Dies: The Lindbergh Kidnapping

The Case That Never Dies: The Lindbergh Kidnapping


The Case That Never Dies places the Lindbergh kidnapping, investigation, and trial in the context of the Depression, when many feared the country was on the edge of anarchy. Gardner delves deeply into the aspects of the case that remain confusing to this day, including Lindbergh's dealings with crime baron Owney Madden, Al Capone's New York counterpart, as well as the inexplicable exploits of John Condon, a retired schoolteacher who became the prosecution's best witness. The initial investigation was hampered by Colonel Lindbergh, who insisted that the police not attempt to find the perpetrator because he feared the investigation would endanger his son's life. He relented only when the child was found dead.

After two years of fruitless searching, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German immigrant, was discovered to have some of the ransom money in his possession. Hauptmann was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. Throughout the book, Gardner pays special attention to the evidence of the case and how it was used and misused in the trial. Whether Hauptmann was guilty or not, Gardner concludes that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of first-degree murder.

Set in historical context, the book offers not only a compelling read, but a powerful vantage point from which to observe the United States in the 1930s as well as contemporary arguments over capital punishment.


It couldn’t be true, could it? Edmund DeLong, a reporter for the New York Sun, living in Princeton, New Jersey, put down the phone, and asked his wife, Bea, where the Lindbergh house was. He had to get over there and see what had happened, see if it was true. The man on the phone said the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped! Bea could drive him. She had been there recently to tea, and knew the way along those country roads to the house where the colonel and Anne lived. DeLong was the first reporter there. Soon after he arrived, the place was covered with reporters like a watermelon rind with ants after a summer picnic. Years later, the Sun reporter told his grandchildren that he thought his fingerprints were probably all over that ladder found about seventy-five-feet from the house—everyone was picking it up, curious to see just how it might have figured in the crime.

How the ladder was used has never been satisfactorily explained, but that was only the beginning. Journalists and forensic experts, Freudian psychiatrists and novelists, have all written about the Lindbergh kidnapping. There are enough theories about how the crime was carried out to fill a set of volumes only a few short of the most recent edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Until now, however, no historian has ventured into the overgrown maze of evidence and speculation.

I was fortunate to secure some directions through the maze from newly available FBI records, as well as from many previously neglected files at the New Jersey State Police Museum. The only way to understand the enduring significance of the case, moreover, is to put it into the context of a United States entering its third year of the Great Depression. It was a time when the nation seemed to have lost its grip . . .

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